Tag Archives: silk

Silk Study Tour to Japan 2022

I’ve been meaning to do this for awhile now and after receiving several inquiries after the recent post I am getting it checked off of my list today. I am including here a new link for those who are interested in receiving the sign up email for the tour which I expect to go out in early June. Here it is!

click the image above to sign up
for the upcoming tour info

The 2021 Silk Study Tour to Japan has now been rescheduled for May 11-26 2022.
Please know that it will be a requirement of the tour to have been fully COVID19 vaccinated in addition to any other health requirements put in place by the Japanese government, the airlines, and our hired bus company. We will strictly adhere to all health requests of the host artisans, museums, hotels, restaurants, shops, and any other places to which we travel.

Hirata san (our Japan-side coordinator and guide) and I have been in frequent communication over the past year and are excited about organizing the upcoming tour. We have a new itinerary that includes some of the past favorites and a few new ones! Prices have not yet been confirmed as all that has to be redone in light of this past year.

Stay tuned! In the meantime, please enjoy some photos and an older blog from past tours. Previous tours occurred in 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017,and 2019.

Nihon e ikimashou!

in the air…

Lots of thoughts rumbling around here since the last post. This is gonna be a longer post, so settle in.

various tomato seedlings transplanted up and getting a bit of a slow start due to cooler weather but it’s warming up now.

Spring is definitely in the air. And so is hope in many quarters. Spring always is in the very heart of a gardener and I’m no different. Like Spring seasons, life is slowly changing and renewing. Many people are getting vaccinated, getting out and adjusting to what currently is. Just being here is good. In fact, quite wonderful.

Hirata san sends me photos of the beautiful cherry blossoms in Kamakura and I’m having hanami natsukashii (cherry blossom viewing yearnings)…here are a couple to get you in the mood. We have our itinerary for the Silk Study Tour set for 2022 and are looking forward. The photos below show the new cherry trees approaching the Hachimangu shrine. It is just gorgeous with all the trees in bloom! This approach was reworked just a few years ago and is a lovely walk down the center of the main street.

I’ve struggled to post often this past year, instead letting thoughts congregate a bit before getting them written into the ether. That doesn’t mean that they are more clearly expressed with the passage of time, sometimes I think it is quite the opposite! Too many thoughts blend, are forgotten and so on, but today felt right so here we are. Sometimes I take short notes for the blog on my phone to remind me of something I want to write about and sometimes I don’t, letting the thought return like a butterfly to its host plant if it works out that way (speaking of butterflies, the caterpillars of the clouded sulfers have gone somewhere to pupate, I know not where) and the praying mantis oothecae should be hatching any second (haven’t seen the babies yet).

Fresh on my mind right now are my beader friends in the Czech Republic (CR) who write me that they are suffering greatly from their government’s misconduct and irresponsibility in regards to COVID. I felt so sad hearing her description of their situation there. Vaccines are extremely limited, and lockdowns are very strict beyond what science would rationally dictate. People feel stifled and rebellious and somewhat hopeless. They look forward to a new election in October, she says.

“forbidden to move out of our districts, forbidden to work and not compensated, forbidden to socialize, forbidden to breath without a mask even if there is nobody around us in a 100 metres range(328 feet), forbidden to leave our homes between 9pm and 5am… and god knows how long til the end, because the government has literally NO PLAN”

I know she won’t mind my sharing her words here anonymously. I can be so absorbed in my own world here, listening to others broadens my perspective. I love that we have become long distance friends sharing our worlds. At the end of our conversation I shared the music of Joan Armatrading (a long time favorite of mine). I’ve been listening to her music today in the studio after Maura in India (Mustard Seeds Kolkata) featured a song on her FB post this morning.

Seems we lost a number of writers in March, notably Beverly Cleary(104), Norton Juster(91), Larry McMurtry(84), and Marianne Carus(92). My kids and I enjoyed their work and say a fond farewell, having left us with many good reads.

My heart was warmed by a message/conversation received from the mother of a son who credits me with far too much- but as we say, we never know what good a simple act of open-heartedness can give rise to. She credits me with reaching out to him as a young teenager who was struggling greatly and saving his life but it was her perseverance and love that brought him to meet me at a show in Houston (they lived in IN) and to encourage his interest in textiles and art. It is to his credit (and hers) that he graduated with a degree in art and is now teaching art in a HS in CO and just got accepted to grad school. He is out and doing what he loves, being who he is. How can you not love that?

It’s haru basho in sumo right now and today is the final day. We enjoy watching sumo here (I love looking at the silk gyoji costumes with their jaquard weaves and wonderful color combinations) and love watching both the juryo and makuuchi divisions. In a lower division called sandanme one of the rikshi (Hibikiryū) suffered a horrible injury perhaps resulting in paralysis (yet to be determined). The resulting uproar over treatment of rikshi injuries has resumed in sumo and is very justified. If you follow sumo, you know what I am talking about. Japan needs to step up. Tradition is one thing, humane treatment of rikshi is another.

Here in CA people over 50 are eligible for vaccinations April 1 and everyone over 16 is eligible April 15. Some areas have already opened to over 50 and we just received our first vaccination here. We still need #2 in 21 days plus a waiting period but progress is happening and workshops will again begin this summer! I am noticing how it is affecting my mental well being today. I feel inspired and more alive. I hope you are taking advantage of vaccinations in your area so we can all move ahead with safety and more peace of mind. This is a time to consider the future and reinvent many things.

Speaking of the studio, my recent post on the paid blog was quite interesting (apparently only to me-haha) yet I’m not sure if subscribers are reading regularly. Makes me wonder about that path. I won’t be doing this again, methinks. All posts there are password protected unless you subscribe but I thought I would “unprotect” this one to share here. It’s about indigo and madder and what I am making now… moonfire! March moons are all about madder and indigo. Today is the full moon as well as a shop update. Moonrise last night was spectacular here. Are you watching where you are?

I also was listening to a video I came across that resonated with me by George Monbiot who promotes “feeding the world without devouring the planet “. This also applies to textiles and clothing which continue to be a resource problem. As the planet goes, so go we. We survive by walking a fragile line of coexistence with nature. The planet will outlast us surely, but by how much? That is up to us.

In the meantime, I continue to dye. I have been dyeing madder and indigo. On a frustrating note, my aquarium heater in the indigo vat is out of commission again. I think that the high pH just does it in and results in its early death. They seem to last less and less time these days (this one just 5 months). Maybe this is the answer? Pricier than replacing the heater but…less wasteful if it lasts a couple of years. The weather is heating up now (81 degrees today) so a heater for the fermentation vat won’t be needed soon. I have been sorting through old cloth and over-dyeing in both indigo and madder to create some interesting cloth sets for the shop. Moonfire sets are also available there. A little diversion is always fun. I love how madder complements the indigo. I can imagine the projects that will be made from these cloth sets. From my imagination to yours…

and in the end, a look back to an older post.

Focus?

This has been my daily undoing lately. Trying to focus when chaos swirls around me. After spending over a week now with an unruly computer, I now have it back to limping along so will take this moment to write a quick post. I had to wipe the HD and reinstall the OS and all the data from a backup. SO lots of resetting work and getting things back to where they were. Not sure it’s done yet as the same problem popped back up during the resetting so I’m expecting more computer trouble on the horizon. But in the moment it is working…

All the chaos of the last year leaves me wondering where the path even is. In what direction do I head? What purpose can I serve? Does what I do even matter (some days I do wonder about this!) ? Chaos seems to zap away my creative energy…
I know I’m not the only person experiencing this. I’m in good company.

After supporting myself for so long (over 40 years) I wonder-can I still do it? What if I can’t? What might that look like? With clearly 6-12 months more of COVID related challenges ahead of us, in-person workshops and shows are unlikely for the foreseeable future and even then, it won’t be like turning a switch back on. It will take time to rebuild. The planned 2021 Silk Study Tour to Japan is of course, cancelled. We have hopes for 2022 so I will refocus towards that.

Sometimes, focus is a matter of deciding what you are NOT going to do!

So just while I’m writing this the screen froze again. So clearly still having issues. Back to the shop it goes tomorrow. Let’s see if I can get a couple of things into my shop to help things out a bit before it completely dies off(crossing my fingers on this restart!).
I’ve still been keeping myself busy, though not really sure what I should be making! I’ve been shooting videos for the Daily Dyer on using the pleater and how I create the silk organza I use for the flowerwork. Again, I’m backed up on the videos due to the computer problems but hope to get more of them up in the next day.

In the meantime, I added a couple of flowers to the shop. I really love the white ones. Here, I am using pleated and dyed silk batting for the leaves. I think it adds a nice textural contrast to the organza.

I’ve also been doing a bit of indigo dyeing for a garment I want to make. In doing that, I selected and organized some of my indigo fabrics into project packs and added them to the shop. It’s been a while since I put these back into the shop. They are assortments of various silks and cottons dyed in varying shades of indigo. There are also a few packs of solid indigo cotton yardage dyed in the three shades using the fermentation vat.


On a side note, I watched some of the Yoshiko Wada shibori lecture videos and enjoyed seeing the work of the featured shibori artists there. I was reminded that I am really more of a commercial shibori craftsperson. Whenever I am creating, it is with an eye towards selling my work. It needs to be this way for me. So when I am experimenting with an idea, I am always wondering how I can use it in a commercial way. Can I improve the process to a point where it satisfies both my aesthetic goal as well as be manageable in the marketplace. I also realize that in the best tradition of Arimatsu shibori, shibori was a way to create a commercial product for a living! This is part of the shibori challenge for me. While beauty and quality craftsmanship is part of the desired outcome, utility remains key and with a eye towards the commercial aspect. And within that utility was a need to sell the work for a fair price for the handwork. I always admire the Japanese ability to innovate the process with this in mind. While much shibori rises to the level of art now, most who are making shibori these days do so as art or as a hobby, what I do is quite different- I made it my profession. I enjoy the challenge of that.

Another interesting Covid related activity- crafting zooms. A group of gals in California have been getting together to make up some of the items for which I offer free instructions. They order the kit, then make the item during their social zoom, screen sharing my video instructions! They have time to check in with each other while hand stitching their kits and helping each other out if needed. Each month they pick a different project. Great idea! If your group wants to do something similar and you want to invite me to pop into your zoom to answer any questions, let me know!

When my focus starts to fade, I take a trip out to the garden and see what is happening there. RIght now the most inspiring thing is the feathery cassia (Senna artemisioides) whose scent is at its peak. It has a little spicy scent -some days it can remind me of Necco wafers-remember those? The clouded sulfur butterflies flit all around and are laying their eggs there. I can always count on Nature to set me straight.

I really wish I could share the scent!
did you notice the butterfly at the top?

PHEW! Made it through the post without another freezing episode!

Stitching stars

I rewarded myself for getting my taxes 90% complete today by stitching stars into the indigo universe.

I just wanted to mention a couple of things about this wonderful silk floss I’m using. It’s about 100 years old and just divine!

Richardson’s silk floss has some interesting history and I came across this print ad.

The silkworms are cocooning quietly in the background and I’m thinking about indigo dyeing their silk as an embroidery floss of some type. It’s a big dream.

But hey, a girl can dream.

Hopeful…楽観的 -らっかんてき

Always during this time of year I begin to get the urge to raise silkworms. Recent walks in the neighborhood encourage me when I see mulberry trees leafing out with fresh tender greens. What silkie could resist?

Reading an account of rice farming and poverty in early 1900’s Japan from one of my favorite books “Memories of Silk and Straw” I saw this, adding further to my yearning…

Watching and caring for small creatures such as silkworms is very calming-at least to me. Seeing them eat, grow, and transform is a reminder of so many things. It makes me a little sad that the local schools no longer do this even though they often have mulberry trees on their campuses, originally planted there for this very purpose.

The neighbor kids are home a lot more now so perhaps they might be interested.

I have eggs in cold storage in my fridge which I saved from my last rearing dated July 2018. A bit old and who knows if they are still viable? I took out one set and will test to see if they will hatch. If not, I may order a small amount of eggs just for fun.

Growing up in Japan in the mid ‘60’s we lived in a house owned by a very wealthy Japanese family. It was located high on a bluff which overlooked the port area of Yokohama. As a child we went on field trips to the Yokohama Silk Center and came home with a small box containing one silk cocoon, one small square of silk, one bit of reeled silk. We regularly visited a nearby famous garden (Sankeien).

Later, much later, say 40 years later, I came to realize that the wealth of the owners of that house we lived in was most likely afforded to the family by the main industry of the time-silk. All wealth in Yokohama and in many other areas of japan was driven by silk trade.

That garden we regularly visited was built and owned by a wealthy silk merchant who many decades later donated the property to the city of Yokohama. It had been their family residence. Only in the past ten years did I learn that one of my early schoolmates was a granddaughter of this family and grew up playing and roaming the private sections of this grand place and it was through her connection that special field trips there were arranged.

The Yokohama Silk Center still exists and I make an effort to go again each time I visit.

So yes, I’m feeling a bit nostalgic today and hoping some of the silkworms will hatch. I’ve put them in a warm spot, with some humidity and hoping for the best in this current corona cocoon.

Be well everyone…

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes…

Have to clear my head and get into the correct frame of mind to write a new post here. Things are shifting as always. I’m trying to find my way through it all with my sanity intact and without losing my mind.
This song came to mind…

The weekend arashi shibori workshop was wonderful. They were a great group intent on experiencing the process of pleated silk shibori. None had done discharge work so that was interesting to me since that is what I have done so much of all these years. Many had taken workshops with all the greats out there so it was interesting to me to hear of those experiences as we worked. So many things to learn out there! And each participant came with their own goals and intentions which is always fascinating to me. The outcomes were beautifully varied and while I think everyone had one piece that was not their favorite, those were the pieces that taught the most.

There is one more workshop scheduled for this month (which is full) and I am working on putting together another one for March 28-29-30 (listed here). There was one resounding request at the last workshop- that it be expanded to 3 days in order to allow for another piece to be made after seeing the results from day one. I understand this request and will give it a try at the newly listed workshop. It will also give me time to demonstrate additional ideas for anyone who is taking the workshop over again. As I explained to the group, I really enjoy it when people take a workshop more than once as it allows them to build their skill and knowledge, which is important in order to master anything. This is why I enjoy the workshops at the Japanese American National Museum so much. Participants return over and over again to work on shibori…in fact, some have been coming for years! By the way, the next workshop at JANM is March 14-15. Sign-ups are through the museum.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/avfw02bmijae053/Screenshot%202020-02-06%2012.55.28.png?dl=0

Of time and changes, we are in the middle of so much right now. Trying to find the path forward, searching for a way. So many conversations, looking for the balanced path. Listening…
The universe feels out of balance here and somehow, somehow, we must find a way back. For all of us. For the world.

Higher ground…moons forever…

Kokoro- the heart of things…

Kokoro means “heart” in Japanese and this past Sunday I participated in the Kokoro Craft Fair at the Japanese American National Museum. The event is staffed by volunteers who organize and run the event to great success in fundraising for the museum’s educational programs and more. They have lots of heart!
I have never been able to participate before since it is too close to the show I usually do in Houston towards the end of October/early November but this year since I am not in Houston, it was a pleasure to be able to do this event.
As is often the case, since it was only a one day affair, I forgot to take photos as I was focused on what I was doing and engaged with customers and attendees. I met many interesting customers & vendors and thought the overall quality of vendor there was very good. Handmade, no imports, and lots of fun Japanese related crafts from what I could see in my quick walk through as people were setting up.
I had a lot of people interested in my classes at JANM (ran out of flyers!) and also in the Silk Study Tour for 2021! Three years ago we had the first Japanese American join us on the tour and this year there were three! It is my distinct pleasure to have more Japanese Americans join us and explore their cultural heritage through the tour.
I have to say a little something about the volunteer staff at JANM. Many are senior Japanese Americans and they do so much for the museum! The JANM is a welcoming place and has always made use of volunteer staff. Sometimes I think that we forget how much seniors have to offer, but not at JANM! Some of them are well into their 70’s and 80’s, maybe 90’s! I hope I have as much vitality as they do when I get there! It was a pleasure to work with them at the event!
Thank you Kokoro volunteers!
I also enjoyed meeting Ann Burroughs the President CEO of the museum for the first time. We had a nice conversation and she even made a purchase of some of my shibori blank cards to use when sending out thank you notes to donors. That was a wonderful thing!

Coming up on October 19-20 at JANM is the second workshop on making a komebukuro (offering bag) incorporating indigo dyeing, boro, shibori, and sashiko. There are only a couple of spots left….
Click for details and signups…

I am busy preparing the material kits and supplies for this class. It’s a bit more work than any of the other workshops so I’m making sure I get a good headstart on it! I am going through all the japanese fabrics from the tour and auditioning the ones I think I want to use for this class. I’ll make another one this week just to settle back into the project.


There are 7 new silk shibori ribbon colors into the shop. All pretty and hard to choose a favorite! One thing I will mention, after making this ribbon for so many years now I surprised even myself by discovering something in the pleating that made a big improvement! Just goes to show you that there is always room for wondering!
You can order them in the shop here.

The tree is loaded with pomegranates and is coming all at once so I am also busy processing them both for dyeing and eating. I’m freezing some of the arils for later and drying and freezing the peels for dyeing. I plan to do some special gold pom dyed pieces soon. This here is the largest one I have ever grown- a blue ribbon winner for sure weighing in at over 2 pounds! Pomegranates are time consuming and delicious!

Kuro in a sleepy moment out in the garden and I couldn’t resist taking a photo. He still decides on when and if he wants petting from us, but with the night temps dropping a bit, he actually came in and slept on the bed for a few hours last night! He’s very independent!
The feral in him I suppose.

I also added another silk shibori flower making class into the mix for November. I had a few people who wanted to do this but missed the last workshop. It is a small group class and you can see the details here. This will be a fun afternoon and a great time to make a few handmade pretties for holiday gift giving.

I’ve been enjoying following Peggy Osterkamp’s weaving blog as she is touring in Japan visiting many textile sites. She went to Amami Oshima as well and saw some of the same things I did. Seeing it again through her weaver’s eye I learned some things that I didn’t get a chance to learn while I was there. The main part of her trip is traveling around Kyushu which is on my list for my next adventure to Japan. In fact, my son is going there for 3 weeks and spending a good chunk of his 3 weeks on Kyushu.
Additionally, John Marshall just sent out a newsletter announcing his new book. I hope I will be able to add it to my workshop library collection of great textile books. It includes over 100 swatch samples and he characterizes it as a “field study guide to Japanese textiles”.

And from my friend Jude who is moving, a look at the place they will now call H O M E. I’ve enjoyed her adventure and will move right along with her.

I’ll end this post with a couple of thoughts that passed my way today which resonated with me. The first one was during an interview with Presidential candidate Andrew Yang- “take a dream and turn it into something.” He also remarked that women are never truly idle. How true!
And the other is the last line of a poem that Michelle posted on her FB page today “Everywhere I look, my thoughts run wild.” (‘2011’ by Fanny Howe)

Let’s keep wondering and dreaming and let our thoughts grow wild.

and now for something a little different here…

While I still have a couple of post drafts started about the 2019 silk study tour that I just can;t seem to get finished (too much video and photo-sorting bogging me down) I’m here to catch up with other goings on around here.

Obon is in the air! Maybe you had a chance to attend one in your area!

Last weekend we had our natsu (summer) shibori workshop at the JANM. It was a great 2 days of shibori dyeing and discovery. I am so pleased that so many return again and again to further their shibori skills there- and wonderful to see so much progress. The participants who are new to the workshop get lots of suggestions and encouragement from returning practitioners- so fun to see. New friends and new connections.

egg,rice, spam,nori,brown gravy-coffee!

We had our Sunday morning Shibori Breakfast Club at the Aloha Cafe in Little Tokyo which got us off to a good start fueled with coffee and a delicious breakfast. Sandra introduced us to their spam musubi loco moco style which was really good. Never was a spam eater but I do like a good musubi now and then. Spam has a history from WWII and is a favorite ingredient in several Okinawan dishes and also made its way to Hawaii and the Philippines as a meat staple when times were tough and meat was in short supply. I recently put some cans of spam into our earthquake kit…

There are several upcoming workshops at the JANM…a plant dyeing workshop in September (kusakizome) which is sold out with a waiting list, a repeat of the komebukuro making workshop that we did in January (think there might be some spots still open for that), and on December 7&8 another shibori and indigo workshop(not yet listed on the JANM calendar)- good timing for making some personal holiday gifts.

I also have lots of yarrow so we will have a couple of yellows to play with. We’ll stick to mostly yellows, blue(sukumo-composted indigo), and madder for the red/orange and shift the colors with mordants and overdyeing. We’ll add some avocado skins and pits as everyone wants to try that. We will work predominately on silk but I’ve decided I will bring some assorted fiber swatch packs for everyone to test with. We will be making a dye swatch notebook. I will bring seeds and cuttings so if anyone wants to grow their own, they can. A few of us will get together prior to the workshop to prepare some of the dyestuffs and stock solutions as it does take time.

I planted the marigold seeds before deciding on doing this workshop(fortuitous!) and was thrilled at how well they have done. They are the large bushy type- not the small cute six pack starters sold at the local nursery-so LOTS of big flowers,plus they have kept pests off my nearby veggies since spring. I have tons of seeds to share at the workshop as well.
The madder is a bit trickier- it’s about 4 years since I planted it and have never really dug it up. I’m having to soak the area (I didn’t plant in a raised bed with nice soil) to be able to get the roots out. I will relocate it after this! The sukumo is some I brought back from Japan and really only have enough to do a small light vat but that will be enough for our purposes here.
The pomegranates are looking great and will be ready by late September so that will be deliciously perfect! We’ll have some pomegranate juice to sip!
I’m saving avocado skins and pits in the freezer as are others signed up for the workshop and might see if I can also get some eucalyptus trimmings from the local trees.

Outside of this, the garden is producing nicely-tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, eggplant, parsnips, potatoes and more. The night blooming cactus is just getting started with its nightly display among the jasmine scenting the air-in the past 5 nights alone 91 flowers have bloomed. Quite spectacular! Last night 40 were open and the sliver of a clouded moon peeked out from behind.

it’s kind of dark and most of the blooms right now are high above us. this cactus is about 25-30 feet now -planted in this location about 25 years ago. I’ve had them since about 1982 or so. I can enjoy them now from my second story window! They used to be in a 12″ pot!

Aside from this, I added some ribbons to the webshop, finally-and some flowers too!!!

I was barely using Etsy over the past year and along with many other smaller sellers of handmade there, are not happy with their decision to only prioritize searches for items with free shipping offered. Now we all KNOW shipping is not free. On Amazon Prime, one pays an annual subscription for “free” shipping. We pay one way or another. Etsy’s suggestion to sellers was to raise the price of items and then to include “free” shipping. How very transparent of them, NOT! The only thing I have in my etsy store are the shibori ribbon scrap bags. So in order to show up in searches, I priced the scrap bags to include the shipping-for FREE! haha. Right. I disclose all this in the listing by the way. The real drag is that if a customer wants more than one, they pay the higher price for both. Not cool. So I recommend going to my website where you can buy all the yardage you want and in the colors you want and it all ships to you for one combined price anywhere in the US ($4). Unfortunately for CA buyers, on Etsy, you also get charged sales tax on shipping now, where you didn’t before (and you don’t on my website as per CA resale laws). Anywhoo… sorry for the mini rant but just wanted to put that out there.

In other news, mills in China are discontinuing weaving certain types of silks. Silk satin for instance. The times they are a-changin’….

wherever you are, i hope you have a gentle summer.
may calm winds blow, peace prevail
and children continue to sing, dance and wonder!

Amami Oshima Tsumugi Weaving

As a followup to the last post, I continue with the weaving portion of my trip to Amami.

On the way to Higo Dorozome Friday, I saw a sign that read “Oshima Tsumugi Village” so we decided to start there on Saturday. I didn’t realize until afterwards that this is where Jackie did her mud -dyeing workshop (we later compared notes). Since I had already done the sharimbai/dorozome workshop we opted for the basic tour and focused on weaving. They have a good but short tour of the weaving process but the real highlight was the addition of a weaving session on one of their looms where you could weave and keep a length of Oshima silk tsumugi. This was purchased at the beginning of the tour with the entrance fee.

Of course, the plain weaving of a piece of silk oshima tsumugi is a fairly basic process even for a novice. The real work as most weavers know, is in the preparation of the warp and the set-up of the loom. Oshima tsumugi takes this to new heights with its complicated pattern drafting, the precise dyeing of both the warp AND the weft threads prior to measuring and warping the loom. In addition, starch is also applied to the silk threads prior to “shim-bata” weaving as well as after the dyeing prior to warping. the starch or glue is made of specific types of local seaweed.

The process of dyeing the threads:
Prior to the late 1800’s, the threads were wrapped with banana plant fiber to resist the dye and form the kasuri patterns. Other methods, from various areas dyeing resisted threads for kasuri weaving, include tying and clamping the threads, but in 1907 two men from Amami in Kagoshima prefecture invented a new method. This consisted of weaving the warps and the wefts temporarily with cotton threads on a special shim-bata loom which resulted in more precise and complicated patterning as well as improvements in production quantity and quality.(The tightly woven cotton wefts over the silk warps resist the dye in shibori-like fashion.)

We saw the preparation of the warping threads-the weaving of the patterns from a precise draft of the pattern desired as well as the additional colored dyeing of the wefts post-dorozome dyeing. Apparently there are 28 (!)preliminary processes that take place in preparation of the actual weaving.
Once the loom is warped (we did not see that process) the weaving begins and the weaver takes over. The weaver handles the shuttles adeptly and quickly, stopping every 7-10 centimeters or so to adjust the threads with a sturdy needle and correct any errors in the pattern caused by tension issues, by adjusting the warp threads before continuing on.

I was sat at a loom and after a brief instruction in Japanese and (international hand waving) I wove about 20 centimeters of beautiful plain woven silk, alternating shuttles filled with a variety of solid and multi-colored silk bobbins. It was like magic! The finished piece was a simple striped pattern and the resulting cloth was very smooth and lightweight.

It really is amazing how the skills for this type of silk fabric came to be developed, practiced and cherished by the Japanese of Amami Oshima and beyond. You can really appreciate the very high prices of this fine silk cloth once you have seen it first-hand. You can read about it, see photos & videos, but to experience it first hand- even for a short time is precious. One of the weavers told me she had been weaving for over 40 years. She said that anyone could do it but that it takes 4 years of 8 hours a day weaving to achieve the correct quality as a weaver of oshima tsumugi. I actually thought that might be understated. I told her I have a lot of catching up to do!
The whole process is such a team effort and the failure of the materials or quality at any point in the process has the potential to ruin the work of all the prior steps taken by the other artisans to that point. Everyone is very focused on a good outcome.

A couple of other points to note- the silk used is not filature silk, meaning that it is not reeled from the cocoon. It is referred to as a yarn, meaning that it is spun from a silk like mawata.
Apparently, sericulture was (is?) practiced on the island but I did not get to see any of that this time. Further research ahead…
I’m interested in seeing how the silk used for the Amami oshima tsumugi is spun and prepared for weaving here, who does it, and where.
Another note- during our tour of the tsumugi village, our guide/driver Kounosuke tells us that his mother was a weaver on the island before she had children (4). AND that his grandfather was a dyer….he has lived on Amami his entire life and had not seen the weaving process before.

About the guided tour at the Amami Oshima Village:
If you are not there to do a workshop, the tour seems quite rushed. They have a specific amount of time devoted to each group before ushering them into the gift shop. I get the impression that there are a lot of casual tourist that go through there by the busloads in the high season. The gift shop does have two parts- the VERY expensive side featuring full kimono, full bolts of woven silk, obi, and various other very fine clothing items and also another side which is filled with fine but more affordable and smaller items- all beautiful and interesting to see.
Kounosuke told us that the high season is of course Golden Week, July and August (when school is out and workers have vacation time) as well as during the Hatchi-matsuri or August festival. He said that was his favorite holiday of the year in Amami. Our other guide who did speak English was Yui who grew up in Yokohama (!)and came to live in Amami one year ago after visiting it on vacation. It’s that kind of place.

Here is a photo gallery from the tour:

As before- there is a lot of video to edit so perhaps on the plane I will do some of it. To follow, the rest of the day tripping around Amami and then time traveling again back to Kyoto.

Other online resources:
https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/KQIy7n8uomYiIQ
this site gives a very good explanation of the tsumugi dyeing and weaving process by Kyoto Women’s University
https://kogeijapan.com/locale/en_US/honbaoshimatsumugi/

Amami Oshima

continuing tradition…

Wednesday’s post was long enough so I didn’t add specific information about the side trip I’m taking after the Silk Study Tour to Japan ends. Prompted by one of the tour participants who is researching the mud dyeing traditions of various cultures and locales, I was inspired to go and see this for myself and add to my Japanese textile knowledge. I will spend 4 days there learning and exploring the textiles of Amami Oshima.
Amami Oshima (oshima means island in Japanese) is the northernmost island in the Okinawan archipelago.

it is part of the Ryuku Islands

While the Ryuku Islands (and Okinawa) are well known for their Indigo dyeing and beautiful weavings using tropical plant fibers, Amami Oshima is known for its tradition of plant and mud dyeing on silk, often supplemented with indigo. Its beautiful and intricate weavings using the previously bound and dyed warp and weft threads are called Oshima Tsumugi.
This link has a good description of the process and terms.
Japan seems like it is filled with endless opportunities to learn and discover so many textile traditions and this is one I have not previously explored.
Interestingly, I realize I have already collected a small sampling of these textiles! I’ve seen them here and there in Japan and picked some up when the price was not too steep just to study and enjoy them. A sampling:

A recent video shows more of the process and the issues facing the economics behind weaving this very time consuming textile.
There is also a lot of indigo dyeing that occurs in the Ryukyu Islands perhaps in part due to its tropical and mild climate as well as the weaving of choice bast fibers, especially on Okinawa. I expect I will also see some of that on Amami Oshima as well.
I also read where they produce a special type of sake there using sugar cane…will have to try it!

So the fabric collections I will be putting together for you includes one selection that will be collected only from Amami Oshima and I wanted to explain a little bit more about what that was all about. You can see the various collections that can be ordered here in the shop.

I look forward to sharing my Amami Oshima adventures here on the blog in early June.